The first thing I ever wrote about Garrett Brown came in September of 2011. It seems rather insignificant to think about now, but it came at arguably the height of Killa Kyleon's being a du jour favorite of rap blogs from coast to coast. Brown contributed to Candy Paint & Texas Plates 2, a Kyleon mix-album that found him doing what he does best — rap a mile a minute with every flow linked together like a soccer wall. Brown was only 20 years old at the time, a wet-behind-the-ears self-taught producer out of Angleton, population 18,862. Among other records produced by Big K.R.I.T., Steve Beelow, Lex Luger, Cookin’ Soul and Donnie Houston, Brown took the penultimate track, “Money Takers.” Even if he wanted it to, Brown’s brain doesn’t shut off. Every sound that exists within a space, husky like an 808 drum or thin like the right piano note, could be manipulated into something. It’s a curse when it comes to being in public settings, but when he’s in his zone as a producer, it works to his benefit.
Six years, a host of production credits and one very prominent feud with a historic local venue later, Garrett Brown barely even responds to his government name. The gas-mask bunny logo, the smiles and constant acclaim as Trakksounds have all but replaced it. I’ve dubbed him the next Houston producer to inherit the keyboard crown from Mike Dean. It seems to have stuck just as his Rolodex for producers and friends has increased: Smoker’s Only records for Houston and Atlanta, the Intervention mixtape he released with Austin-based hip-hop blog ThaFixx, beat tapes and more. He’s taken the well-touched path of Texas rap producer and made it his own. It’s part of his story now, doing records with Scotty ATL and the Step Brothers duo of Don Trip & Starlito. If he were to step even a little bit out of his created space, the lines would blur and the space-time continuum might collapse onto itself. Sure, that’s a hyperbolic statement, but Trakksounds right now is akin to Jose Altuve at the plate. He’s not creating for contact purposes; maneuvering all over the plate in order to make something splash is his newfound purpose.
The Other Side, his latest album, contains all the usual familiarity and camaraderie of a Trakksounds project, only the stakes are a bit higher. For one, Scarface shows up alongside The Suffers’ Kam Franklin for the brick-cold opener “Once Upon a Time." Starlito keeps it effortless and direct when it comes to his heroes, they “all had gold teeth in their mouth.” Face deals with the X-Files-like piano stabs and synths by looking backwards as if he’s the only constant in time. “I didn’t heed the warnings,” he raps with that sped-up voice of reckoning that has become his calling card for the past half-decade or so. He could show up as the proverbial man in black from “I Seen a Man Die” and his conviction would still be the same.
Raised moments for Trakksounds aren’t anything new, though The Other Side contends as a 14-track project with only two or three clear reaches for contemporary listeners and suckers for easy-to-spot samples. The first, “Bout It," twists up Master P’s infamous 1996 original and marries it to Maxo Kream’s guttural marauding through the city without a care. Memphis’s Xavier Wulf adds to the built-in animosity created by Maxo by shooting at faceless haters and announcing himself in a new city as if he were the esteemed verified visitor. The original “Bout It” stood hard with gangster machismo and chest thumping. Trakksounds’s flip laughs with a more brazen approach to being ready for whatever. That’s what happens when you employ Maxo to do literally anything.
By contrast, “11:15” swaps out all the posturing and even-eyed rocking for Kirko Bangz’s storytelling about a woman who wants bigger aspirations than a one-night stand. With the opening horns from TLC’s “Creep” playing a wave of guitars and a glossy-eyed Devin the Dude, it’s a sex anthem without being tongue-in-cheek about it. For a more direct approach with the squelchy notes and talkbox Auto-Tune made famous by Roger Troutman, Trakksounds created a mid-'90s tempo of seduction for Railey Rose’s Blackstreet-tinged “No Doubt About It.” Variance is what keeps Trakksounds at bay. If he works too hard into that “girl song, weed song, money song” template laid out to perfection by Puff Daddy & The Hitmen in the mid-'90s, he’ll get stuck in a rut.
Every whispery “Trakksounds” tag that gets emitted throughout The Other Side gives credence to something different. Some records are cloudy with sleepy atmospherics built to contain a certain high. Others, such as Kevin Gates’s “Ringing” remix, sound spastic, springy, as if they were built and made specifically for 8-bit Nintendo lovers and minimalists. Yet the best moments come from within, those thick, nowhere near soupy constructs where Houston gets its time to eat and live.
“Feel Alive” is a weed song from T2 the Ghetto Hippie and Dizzy Wright wrapped in enough paranoia to make it seem like getting high is a worthy escape. “Oh Lord” with GT Garza, Roosh Williams and Doeman sounds like it was created on a Sunday night in a dimly lit church with all the power driven toward the band onstage. “I told the devil we ain’t finna dance today,” Williams raps and it’s pretty believable. Remember, Roosh Williams is a crazy person and Doeman would cut your head off if you were anybody but yourself on a track. “You worried about Instagram, I’m worried about immigrants” may be the coldest line on The Other Side. Because as often as Trakksounds lends his drums to the passionate, the high and intrigued, he always makes time for those who know it isn’t completely about them.
Which is what separates starry-eyed beatmakers disguised as producers from actual producers.
SONGS OF THE WEEK
Houston adopted BillyRacxx the same way we housed the NBA Finals from the Magic in 1995. It may be time to start getting familiar with the Orlando-to-Houston product as a) he’s under the wing of Trae tha Truth now; and b) “Wonderland” dances in and out of traffic as a head-nodding trip where the only person who could possibly steer it right is Billy himself.
Delorean, “Take Me Back (Intro)”
We’ve already discussed Take Me Back at length. Delorean had a release concert recently at EastDown Warehouse in which he told the world he only raps for validation. But it’s imperative that we tell the world that “Take Me Back (Intro)” is already up there as one of the best Houston rap tracks of 2017.
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Freddy Inglewood, or in this case Freddy In the Name of God, is haunted by death. Chased by it. Almost consumed by its prospects. We’ll dive into In The Name of God soon enough, but for now, the wailing guitars and confessional aspect of “Lituation” show why Freddy feels safe around his friends, even if he may be losing them to death one by one.
Marc Haize, “Days of My Life”
Add Marc Haize to the list of artists from the Lone Star State who have moved to California. “I don’t have the time to look back and say what we’ve could have been,” he raps on “Days Of My Life.” The lead track to You Left Me On Scott St. sits in the gospel, then gets up to be secular before running back after family suicide helped refocus Marc’s energy.